A hostile profile of John McCain's wife Cindy rehashed old controversies to little effect, but the biased result that appeared on Saturday's front page under the byline of Jodi Kantor and David Halbfinger, "Behind McCain, Washington Outsider Wanting Back In," became worse in retrospect when it was revealed how the Times tried to put it together - trolling Facebook for classmates of McCain's teen-age daughter. Reporter Jodi Kantor's message to an unidentified person on Facebook included the charming requests, "we are trying to get a sense of what [Cindy McCain] is like as a mother" and "I'm trying to figure out what school her 16 year old daughter Bridget attends."
Is thatthe state of investigative journalism at the New York Times these days?
Facebook must have been a dry hole, but Kantor and Halbfinger did their best with old dirt:
From the start, Mrs. McCain's marriage has been defined by her husband's ambitions, and despite her sometimes punishing ride in political life, she does whatever she must to help fulfill them. As his poll numbers have slid recently, her devotion has seemed only to grow. When the McCain campaign recently stepped up attacks on Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. McCain joined in with startling intensity. The day after the second presidential debate, which did not turn around Mr. McCain's standing in the polls, she interrupted a Fox News interview he was doing to testify to his virtues. At this late date, Mrs. McCain is starting to headline her own rallies, starting in Pennsylvania on Saturday.
Kantor and Halbfinger continued:
She initially seemed like an ideal political partner, giving Mr. McCain a home state, money and contacts that jump-started his career. But as the years passed, she also became a liability at times. She played a role in the Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal, and just as her husband was rehabilitating his reputation, she was caught stealing drugs from her nonprofit organization to feed her addiction to painkillers. She has a fortune that sets the McCains apart from most other Americans, a problem in a presidential race that hinges on economic anxieties. She can be imprecise: she has repeatedly called herself an only child, for instance, even though she has two half-siblings, and has provided varying details about a 1994 mercy mission to Rwanda.
First, though, the McCains must win. Mrs. McCain has traveled by her husband's side on the campaign trail and helped reorganize the campaign after it floundered in 2007. When The New York Times reported last winter that Mr. McCain's staffers had urged him to stay away from a female lobbyist during his first presidential run, Mrs. McCain stood by her husband at a news conference and defended his honor.
Kantor and Halbfinger continued to rehash old Cindy McCain stories:
Her husband was accused of improperly intervening on behalf of a donor, Charles Keating, whose failed savings and loan had cost taxpayers billions. Four other senators were implicated, and one Senate spouse: Mrs. McCain. She and her father had invested in a shopping center with Mr. Keating, and while Mr. McCain insisted that he had reimbursed Mr. Keating for vacations their families had taken together in the Bahamas, he said his wife, the family bookkeeper, could not find the receipts.
Mrs. McCain busied herself with the American Voluntary Medical Team, a charity she founded to supply medical equipment and expertise to some of the neediest places on earth, like Micronesia, Vietnam and Kuwait in the weeks after the Persian Gulf war.
When Mrs. McCain visited Bangladesh after a cyclone, she stopped at an orphanage founded by Mother Teresa, who was not, as the campaign has said, present for the visit. Mrs. McCain returned with two baby girls; Mr. Gullet later adopted one, and Mrs. McCain informed her husband on landing that they would adopt the other.
In 1994, Mrs. McCain dissolved the charity after admitting that she had been addicted to painkillers for years and had stolen prescription drugs from it. She had used the drugs, first given for back pain, to numb herself during the Keating Five investigation, she confessed to Newsweek magazine. "The newspaper articles didn't hurt as much, and I didn't hurt as much," she wrote in an essay. "The pills made me feel euphoric and free."
The scandal broke just as her husband had been trying to rehabilitate his reputation. He had no idea his wife had been an addict, he told the press.
Kantor gave Cindy McCain a level of scrutiny she withheld from her laudatory profile of the spouse of the Democratic candidate, Michelle Obama,back in June, in which Kantor dismissedMichelle Obama's"For the first time...I am really proud of my country" statement as a "rhetorical stumble" and suggesting the media was overplaying it.
More from Kantor's Saturday story on Cindy McCain:
In interviews, some of Mrs. McCain's statements seem questionable. She often tells of how she moved to California, leaving her children behind, for four months in 2004 to recover from a stroke that left her unable to walk or speak. But news reports from the time indicate she had few discernible impediments. She gave interviews four days afterward, attended a baseball game with her husband and a reporter several weeks later, and spoke at a Tempe, Ariz., Chamber of Commerce event. "One month out, I feel wonderful," she told the audience. The McCain campaign declined to resolve the discrepancy.
Similarly, Mrs. McCain often mentions her travels to Rwanda at the height of the 1994 genocide - she wrote about it in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece and has been praised by politicians and newspaper columnists for jetting into the heart of a massacre. As with her other charity trips, participants praised her eagerness to help victims of tragedy. But news accounts and interviews indicate, and a campaign spokesman confirmed, that Mrs. McCain traveled after the genocide had ended, spending time with refugees in neighboring Zaire, now Congo. Asked if she was ever in Rwanda, as Mrs. McCain has stated many times, a campaign spokesman, Jill Hazelbaker, said "she was driven to the Zaire/Rwanda border in order to assess the conditions of the refugees entering the country."
While the Times will bring up such shrug-worthy details about the wife of the Republican nominee, it has no stomach to question a dubious claim by someone actually on a presidential ticket - vice presidential nominee Joe Biden's inference that a helicopter he was riding in was forced to land while under fire in Afghanistan. ABC reporter Jake Tapper checked out what Biden told the National Guard Association in September:
"If you want to know where Al Qaeda lives, you want to know where Bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me," Biden said. "Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down, with a three-star general and three senators at 10,500 feet in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are."
Turns out it was just a snowstorm, not enemy fire, that forced the helicopter that Biden, Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Chuck Hagel were riding in, in February 2008. The Times has yet to mention Biden's statement.